Traditional Publishing Contracts – Part One of a Series
You might remember an article How Harlequin Publishing Deceives Their Authors from last summer in this blog, about the planned class action suit against the publisher. Today I stumbled about a sequel of J.A. Konrath’s blog: Harlekin Fail, Part 2, where he explains the contract practices of the trade publishers in general, and how they deceive their authors. From today on we will look more closely into these practices.
When offered the opportunity to publish traditionally, about two-thirds of self-published authors are interested. The supposed prestige of a traditional publisher, the wide distribution a publisher can generate and help with marketing, are the reasons, cited in surveys.
However the perception of traditional publishing is often not up to date in public, as the way of book marketing (and the whole traditional publishing business) has totally changed. Only celebrity authors get full promotion, other writers have to fend for themselves, and they often do not even know that their books have only a maximum of three months to survive on bookstores shelves until they will be returned to the publisher or discarded. Read also What Publishers Won’t Tell You.
In the last hundred years, the only way to get published, or better said, get distribution for a book, was to sign a contract with a publisher. Writers had almost no choice, then to accept the publishing contract terms – until the advent of author-publishing, which was the norm since about a hundred years ago.
Imagine, an agent / publisher offers you a publishing contract.
Best advice for any author is to know what they get into, to understand the publishing contract and to consult a contract lawyer before signing the papers. As Copylaw.com wrote: “While it is difficult to see how your publishing agreement will play out in the long term, the decisions you make today could have profound, long term consequences.”
This will be a series of articles, trying to bring some light into the murky waters of these universally unfair and mostly, non-negotiable publishing contracts. Disclaimer: Nothing in these articles can or should be taken as legal advice.
What are the subjects / paragraphs of a publishing contract? Let’s look in detail at
- Duration of the contract
- Rights granted by the author to the publisher
- Territory for these rights
- Manuscript Delivery
- Advances and Royalties
- Statements and Payments
- Competing Works
- Unsatisfactory Material
- Out-of-Print Termination
- Reversion of rights
Even if you are still eager to sign a contract, you should at least know what you (and maybe even your heirs) get into, and what the contract clauses really mean. This series about details in publishing contracts will also help you to ask the right questions when you meet with a lawyer, specialized in publishing contracts / contract law.
The entire publishing industry is using boilerplate contracts and universally, one-sided clauses to exploit authors – same as it has happened (and often still does) in the music industry – until the dawn of Indie Music … and now the music industry is in deep trouble, as many artists became their own producer and distributor. Which will ultimately happen with parts of the publishing industry. Look at all the mergers of publishing houses, that happened recently!
Their system is designed to take advantage of Authors’ naivete and their lack of bargaining power, and it uses the promise of book publication as a carrot to get them to accept biased terms. However, there are a few authors who managed to have at least one or the other of the contract clauses changed.
Who fights for better publishing contracts? No one does …
Authors have no one to fight for their rights.
Authors won’t help each other, they don’t band together. The successful ones do not want to compromize their bestsellerdom. Newbie authors and aspiring writers are eager to become published, even at less favorable terms.
Agents really work for the publishers.
And even if they would have the courage to fight the status quo, chances are their authors wouldn’t back them – out of fear to form a united front against publishers.
Publishers certainly won’t change.
Because they have no incentive to. They can pick and choose among millions of manuscripts. And they can, or had, certainly theoretically only ;- ) arranged for universal contract terms and royalties among their peers …
Let’s look into the details of publishing contracts in the next two of the series, in order to find out and to realize what these contract clauses mean for authors. Stay tuned, and spread the word, re-blog these articles, so that as much writers as possible learn about the tactics of the publishing industry.
Sources / Read also:
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